Here’s Why Most Shows Should Have a Lesbian Couple

Clexa, 2015-2016 (“The 100,” primetime sci-fi drama on broadcast network The CW)

One day, lesbians will tell their grandchildren, “I remember Clexa…” It is a portmanteau that will live on in the lesbian community pretty much forever well after all others are distant memories. The pairing of Clarke and Lexa (Clexa) on “The 100” mobilized queer women everywhere, showing the previously unanticipated size and power of queer female viewership and the massive boost that shows can receive from a popular lesbian pairing if handled respectfully (and in this case, the damage caused by mishandling, too). Although there are highly negative aspects to this case study—showrunner Jason Rothenberg’s courting of LGBT fans got more viewers but became a double-edged sword when he contributed to the Bury Your Gays trope—it is a standout example of the quantitative metrics of lesbian pairings, and here’s why:

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  • It won the Internet: According to Tumblr’s “Fandometrics,” in 2016 Clexa was the top “ship” for all of Tumblr, a sexual-orientation agnostic title that required beating out…well, everyone. In addition, Alycia Debnam-Carey (Lexa) came in #1 individually for top actress and Eliza Taylor (Clarke) came in #3, beating out the likes of Daisy Ridley, Jennifer Lawrence, and Margot Robbie. If we view Tumblr as a good proxy for the broader Internet, there was no more visibly popular couple on the Internet in 2016 than Clexa, and that’s a huge deal.
  • It dominated couples polling across all genres: In Zimbio’s annual Couples March Madness poll in 2015, Clexa amassed over 1.5 million votes and beat scores of heterosexual pairings to make it to the finals (where it lost to the lesbian sort-of couple Root and Shaw of “Person of Interest,” which garnered 2.5 million votes). Clexa then proceeded to win the poll in 2016 and, unbelievably, 2017 as well.
  • It dominated couples polling across all genres, part 2: In E! Online’s TV Scoop Awards 2016, Clexa won for Steamiest/Sexiest Moment, Best Kiss, and Most Heartbreaking Goodbye, while Lexa won for Best Fight, Taylor won for Best Drama Actress, and Debnam-Carery won for Best Guest Star. In the 2017 TV Scoop Awards, Clexa won for Best Fandom, followed by Bellarke, the portmanteau for the heterosexual pairing of Clarke and Bellamy.

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  • It Beat Out Rival Straight Ships on YouTube: On Youtube, one Clexa scene has 3.1 million views, while another scene has 2.4 million. The most viewed scene for Bellarke, on the other hand, has a mere 1.6 million views. Comparatively, fans just aren’t that into Bellarke.
  • It Dominated Twitter: #Clexa first started trending worldwide on Twitter in February 2015. When Lexa returned to the show in January 2016, “Heda is Back” was tweeted 63,800 times. Variations of Twitter hashtags associated with Clexa trended across several countries while Clexa was on air, and continue to make a measurable impact even today. In the first week of October 2017, a year and a half after Lexa’s death, talkwalker records 8,900 uses of #Clexa, reaching 2.2 million people. Only half of these Tweets came from America; the next biggest identifiable percentages are from Brazil, Russia, Israel, France, Spain, Italy, Poland, and Vietnam. #Bellarke in contrast, had only 4,600 uses during the same timeframe, although the Tweets were equally international.
  • The media loved it: While Clexa was on air, the entertainment industry provided “The 100” copious accolades and publicity based around the couple. The show has not achieved even a fraction of the same publicity for Bellarke, however.

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  • The fanbase was unprecedentedly active: Lexa’s death reveals the real size of the lesbian iceberg beneath the water. When Lexa was killed in March 2016, Twitter exploded: “Lexa” was mentioned in 399,000 Tweets, “LGBT fans deserve better” was tweeted more than 280,000 times in just a few hours, and a hashtag calling for the show to be cancelled was tweeted more than 10,000 times. Rothenberg’s Twitter follower count plummeted by more than 15,000 in the space of just a few days. Clexa fans called for a boycott of the show, and the next episode had 140,000 fewer viewers, or just under 10% of the show’s viewership. It became the lowest rated episode in the show’s history, and that doesn’t even capture the untold numbers of US and international fans who don’t have access to broadcast TV who also stopped watching Clexa clips from the show on social video platforms like YouTube.

Conclusion: Clexa fans probably accounted for more than 10% of the show’s viewership (once viewers watching on social video platforms are counted), and the Clexa relationship was indisputably the most popular couple on the show. The producers of “The 100” benefited from this viewership to pump their numbers while Lexa was on, but this courting of the Clexa fanbase then led to a massive backlash against the show when Lexa was killed off because it made the producers seem insincere and cruel, a good lesson for shows considering adding a lesbian storyline. Why was Clexa so popular? It was easy for viewers around the world to access and the characters were strong, powerful women.

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PAGE 3 – The telenova, and the rise of lesbian couples on Brazil’s small screen